Diageo job losses ‘not due to Brexit’

Pic: John Devlin
Pic: John Devlin

Diageo has insisted that proposals to cut up to 70 jobs from its Leven site are not due to Brexit.

Workers learned yesterday that the global drinks giant was looking to potentially reduce up to 70 posts at Banbeath and a further 35 at its Shieldhall site, near Glasgow.

The cuts are part of a plan to move selected white spirits production to Diageo’s Santa Vittoria plant in Italy, which is currently winding down operations following the loss of a wine bottling contract.

The jobs announcement sparked widespread condemnation from unions and politicians, who blamed the move on uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

However, a Diageo spokesperson told the Press today: “No, this is for business reasons.”

Over the past ten years Diageo has invested £470 million into production at Banbeath. It is the largest of the company’s three European bottling plants with a workforce of around 800 people.

Staff were informed of a review last year.

The GMB accused the UK Govenment of “a gross betrayal” of drinks manufacturing workers saying the plans were due to Brexit concerns.

Union representatives are scheduled to meet Diageo senior executives early next week where timeframes are expected to be confirmed.

Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland organiser, said: “Over 100 skilled workers are now facing unemployment because Diageo are hedging their bets over Brexit – there is absolutely no getting away from this.

“We warned David Mundell and the UK government about the possible impact of Brexit on the future of jobs across our drinks manufacturing sector and about the need for protective measures to safeguard an industry worth billions to the Scottish and UK economies.

“Instead of listening to the real concerns of working people and acting on them, the Tories are off on the election trail asking voters to back them over Brexit but the harsh realities of the decision to withdraw from the EU are already taking hold.”

In response a spokesperson from the UK Government said: “We have been in contact with Diageo and understand the company has begun a consultation with staff about proposed operational changes that are not driven by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

“The UK Government continues to support the Scottish economy and key sectors such as the drinks industry.”

Unite, however, described it as a “shocking betrayal of Scottish workers”.

Pat McIlvogue, Unite regional officer, said: “Diageo isn’t proposing cutting the volume of what it produces – the work will still have be done somewhere. But it’s telling Scottish workers that they’re not the ones that are going to be doing it.

“Scotland has been very good to Diageo. The company makes massive profits because of its association with Scotch whisky. Leven and Shieldhall are some of the most efficient, productive drinks facilities in the world.”

In a statement released yesterday, Diageo said: “Following the disposal of our wine business and the subsequent end of the wine bottling contracts, we have reviewed our spirits bottling footprint to ensure we not only deliver leading performance for both our domestic and export supply chains around the world, but also to strengthen our business for the future.

“Regrettably, these changes may impact some roles in our European bottling plants towards the end of the year and we will now enter a period of consultation with our employees and their representatives to discuss the proposals in more detail.

“We are committed to our three spirits bottling sites in Europe – two in Scotland and one in Italy. The outcomes of this review will ensure we have the flexibility to respond to increased competition and external volatility, alongside testing and building the capability we need across our global supply chain to grow our brands.”

Cabinet Secretary for Finance Derek Mackay said news of the possible job losses was “deeply disappointing news.”

“Scottish Enterprise is engaging with the company to explore all possible options for supporting those affected, and we will work with the company to safeguard Scottish jobs,” he said.

“If any redundancies proceed, through our initiative for responding to redundancy situations, Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE), we will provide skills development and employability support to minimise the time that individuals affected are out of work.

“Our focus at this stage is on engaging with the company to do everything we can to encourage it to maintain employment at its Scottish sites.”